The congregation drew the attention and curiosity of passers by, particularly on the Friday when the second part of the vigil was held in Federation Square, the heart of the city. Many who passed the demonstration clapped or shouted pro-Tibet slogans, while Flyers handed out by volunteers heralded an 'Urgent Call for Restraint in Ngaba'.
It is also worth noting that many Chinese also stopped to photograph the spectacle and ask some questions. The crowd-drawing vigil had been called in memory of the five Tibetans who gave their lives over the past ten days in tragic protest to Chinese oppression in their homeland. In attendance were members of the Melbourne Tibetan community, including representatives of the Australia-Tibet Council.
During the immolation protests, those who are now being called the Tibetan martyrs waved the Tibetan flag while calling for religious freedom, shouting slogans and holding up pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the possession of which is considered illegal by the Chinese inside Tibet.
The three young monks who gave their lives are Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Kunchok, on September 26nd; and Kalsang Wangchuk, October 3rd. All three were aged between 17 and 19 years old, and are believed to have been relatives of the young Phuntsok, the 21-year-old monk from Kirti monastery who set himself alght in protest in March of this year. On October 7th, just a few days ago, two former Kirti monks Choephel, 19, and Kanyang, 18, also set fire to themselves.
In each case Chinese authorities were quick to act and surrounded the burning figure before viciously beating the body and putting out the flames. Whisked away by security personnel, the cause of death is not certain. Paramilitary Armed Police have held Kirti under heavy guard since March, hundreds of monks have been removed and 'patriotic re-education' has been reinforced. Roads and tourism have been blocked and rumours have circulated of a violent crackdown and starvation within the monastery.
Rich in natural resources including valuable mineral deposits and the source of much of Asia's water supply, Tibet is a region the Chinese are likely to hold onto tooth-and-nail. It is undoubtedlty attention to incidents such as these that is making the communist regime feel uncomfortable and threatened, and causing them to go to desperate lengths in an attempt to control the suffering population of a land it invaded more than half a century ago.
For the Tibetans, as recent events clearly show, life in Tibet has become unbearable and unless China heeds the warnings of international state observers and changes its policy on Tibet, there will be much more tragic unrest to come.